It's been awhile.. I know.. I've been busy with college and work and life and trying to install windows on an ubuntu machine.. gods that last one is driving me insane...


stupid gorram netbooks.. 

I am not tech savy enough to format my netbook hardrive.. and now I think I've properly foobarred it. 

ah well. I am sure I will figure it out eventually. 

So.. this year my aim is to write at least one post a week. About anything.. something in the news.. something interesting I have found online.. a book I have read.. you know.. just in general something. 

For today's post I am going to talk about the two books I have read this week (now that all of my essay's are done and I am now free to wallow in Fiction.. glorious glorious fiction..)

First up: Rose Under Fire: 
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 This is a loose sequel to Code Name Verity (also known as the CRYING BOOK in my house, due to my OH waking up one Saturday morning to find me quietly sobbing beside me.. gods but Code Name Verity is a 100% gives me the FEELS book). 

And I think that was part of the problem with Rose Under Fire.. which is an excellent book.. but as I was bracing myself for the crying and sucker punch or emotion I don't think I fully invested.

It's a great book though. An interesting look at an aspect of World War 2 I think rarely gets looked at. The complexity of loyalties and friendship under such conditions are not underplayed. There is no 100% good or 100% bad here, but there is pettiness and vindictiveness and mercy and compassion and laughter and camaraderie.  And fear and hopelessness and hope and courage. 

You do not need to have read Code Name Verity to read this. And I think I would recommend reading this first, before going back to Verity.
 
But do read them both.

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Second: Eleanor & Park

OH GODS THIS BOOK. 

That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. 

Read it. 

marvel at the joy and beauty of two teenagers finding each other and helping each other.. 

There is nothing bad about this book..

Just read it. 

Also.. the cover is a thing of JOY.

 
 
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I have spent the last week regressing. Not in a bad way, more in a revisiting the stuff I loved as a teenager way.

It was initially sparked by a random twitter exchange between two people I don’t follow (and now, can’t remember their handles) about the merits of Courtney Love.

The guy flat out refused to even consider that Hole had a place in music history.. he kept complaining about how unprofessional Love is and how the production values (or lack thereof) on Hole albums meant that they had no value or musical merit. The woman in the exchange kept saying, that he was entitled to his opinion, but that for her, Hole played a crucial role in opening up a whole genre of music, regardless of production values.

Now, I knew neither of these people, so didn’t feel it was my place to interject into the conversation.. but it got me thinking.

I’m pretty sure that the whole Seattle scene was founded on poor production values and far too many personality altering drugs.. I’m also pretty sure that Hole were not alone in reflecting this J

But the exchange did spark that memory.. the one of me dancing in my room to Live Through This.. I loved Hole when I was a teenager.. They were somewhat crucial to me getting into grunge.. well them and 4 non-Blondes. Can you imagine the joy it was for a teenage girl who didn’t wear (or understand) makeup to discover a world where it wasn’t necessary. Or women who wore makeup like they were playing dress-up. That being pretty wasn't the point. 

So I went to my local internet music provider & downloaded Live Through This..

It’s still damn good.. and wonderful as training music for the couch to 5 k thing.  

And to be honest, the production values don't seem all that bad to my untrained ears..

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I will be posting more updates on this revisiting my not so wild youth.. next up with be Daria (You're standing on my Neck)

 
 
Oh World’s End left me dissatisfied and annoyed.

I’m a fan of the two prior films.. and I was very much looking forward to this one, despite not seeing any trailers, or reading any reviews.. 

I had been told that It wasn’t like their other films.. That it was different, but good. & not a comedy.
 

That was it, the extent of my pre-credits knowledge.
 
Which put me in a very interesting situation. I had NO idea what to expect (as I had been told it wasn’t like the other two films – which I love, note: I also like Paul & Scott Pilgrim).

And for the first 30-40 mins I was fascinated and really quite excited about the film.

Here it was, finally. 
A darkly comic look at childhood friendship, growing up, refusing to grow up, mental health, the power one person still holds over a group despite decades of no contact, the impact of childhood bullying, even when you are in your forties.. The downside to group therapy and how sometimes (quite often) it fails the participants. About being king of the world at 18, and then never quite hitting that point again.

 All of this was masterfully hinted at in the first 40 mins..

It was a proper grownup (if black) discussion on things that matter but never really get spoken about.

And then.. 
Aliens..
Sweet Jesus..The Aliens, I almost wept.

It was like a giant hammer of a metaphor for how society deals with mental health.. It really really really annoyed me, because the scene in which the aliens get introduced could have been epic. Pegg's character struggling to place himself in a world where he's no longer king. The new King of the town just ignoring him. It was interesting and I wanted to know how it would play out and how Gary would come to terms with his past. 

But we got Aliens. 

Instead of getting stuck in to dealing with the issues raised in the first bit we get distracted by fucking aliens. 

Let’s just ignore all the ramifications of our life choices and kill things. 


Every time the characters got close to a real conversation about real issues...

Aliens.

 Fucking Aliens.  

Oh yeah, and then there was the way they just ignored.. no, not ignored, celebrated how alcohol is used to mask emotions..  

Let’s drown our f*cking lives away and avoid the giant elephant of feeling in the room.

GAH! 

And the end.. THE END.. (shoot me now)

 

*spoiler*

 

 

Our choice is between childish rebellious manchild or autonomous robot.

 

That’s it humanity. If you don’t choose freedom without responsibility then you, my dear, are a robot.

 

Freedom (without responsibility) and alcohol.. that’s what’s important..

 

Oh I wish they’d made the other film..

 

The one without aliens..

 
 
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So last night Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra finally made it to Dublin (the gig earlier this year was cancelled for reasons).

 

I was super excited before the gig.. I'd had a crappy week and all sorts of bad things are happening to people I care lots about so I really just wanted to let my hair down and rock out.  
It’s pretty damned hot in Ireland at the minute and we’re completely not used to it. So it was a pleasant surprise when we got to the Academy and realised that not only was the AC on.. but it was working effectively.

Go The Academy.

Also it was pretty awesome to realise that half the disparate groups I hang out with on twitter and in RL were at the gig. Me and P had assumed we would be the oldest peoples in the audience but no.. It was a wonderful group of all ages and we didn’t feel at all out of place on the dance floor :oJ

 So the gig.. 

I am going to admit to being a little disappointed that there was no drummer. I can’t lie about it. I have three songs I adore off  Theatre is Evil and they are all pretty drum heavy. I was ridiculously excited about the idea of singing along with 500 odd people to Melody Dean. And Do it with a Rockstar is just the best song to have been released by anyone in years.. It reminds me of when I was 14 and discovering the Four Non Blondes.  

So yeah.. that was a disappointment.. but the only one.. because the rest of the gig was EPIC.

 
To replace the drums we got strings.. and a never-played-only-just-composed string ensemble for The Killing Type. Seriously.. it was magnificent and now I want to see Amanda host the BBC proms with a full backing orchestra..

 

The rest of Grand Theft Orchestra (excluding the drummer, Thor Harris, who just had to go run off and play with some band called The Swans.. I mean really.. sheesh) were amazing.. sweet jeebus the base player, Jherek Bischoff, is talented.. He was conducting the strings section whilst playing the bass.. I was in AWE.

 

So the third song that I <3 on the album is Lost. Every time I hear it I'm reminded of all the people who left this world too soon. And I smile, because I still have them, they’ve shaped me. And we (the audience) got to be the drums for the song. And I'm so happy we were.  

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The NWA cover was inspired, and made more than the sum of it’s parts by the poor student who was brought up on stage (and then backstage) to hold a phone and act as a lyrical prompter.. I’m sure the student (who’s name I am unable to remember..) had one of the best night’s as a result J

Oh and the yellow submarine..  



And then Amanda reached out with her soul and asked us to see her.. not the her imagined by hundreds of internet comment-ers.. but the actual real-life-her that has to deal with the hate and the love and the expectations and the reality of life on the road away from her core, and life off the road away from her other core. And I think there may have been tears… there were certainly people in the audience who know what it’s like to concentrate so hard on breathing through the black haze that art becomes virtually impossible. 

But art is still possible and sometimes all you need is the Daily Mail to inspire it (no we did not get a version of Dear Daily Mail).

 Special guest, Gavin Friday, performed Shakespeare. I love Gavin. When I made my final year project in college (a lesbian vampire film) I used his song Caruso to score it. And then a few years ago I saw him (and the Virgin Prunes) live at Grand Canal Dock singing sea shanties with Tim Robbins (no really).. so when he & Amanda sang together it was a gleeful thing.

 And then we carried Amanda.. I supported her back during one pass (which might be the indie-punk equivalent of carrying a watermelon.. I don’t know) and on the second pass I almost lost my glasses due to a glancing knock from her arm or boob or something.. (in my head a mantra: I must not drop amanda, I must not lose my glasses, I must not drop my glasses, I must not lose amanda.).

Also, Missed Me is my second favourite Dresden Dolls song (Coin Operated Boy holds the top spot).
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Oh! Did I mention Fucking Georgia of Fucking Bitter Ruin with incredible Fucking Voice... No?? Consider her mentioned.. Bitter Ruin played one song and nearly brought down the house. 

They are playing in September in Whelan's.. We should all go see them.  

I am unashamedly an Amanda Palmer fan girl. I have seen her live loads of times, tho not often enough and I have never made it to a ninja gig due to masquerading as a responsible adult with a job in the daytime…


Last night missed some of my hopes (no drums) but exceeded all of my dreams (Oh those strings.. they will haunt me).


Hopefully the band will tour Ireland again.. and then we might get to Do it With a Rockstar.. but until then.. Nothing’s ever lost forever, It’s just caught inside the cushions of your couch, and when you find it you’ll have such a nice surprise.
 
 
Earlier this year, as part of my course, I conducted an analysis of the measles outbreak in Wales. Here's the (somewhat long) result:

Introduction:

In 1998 The Lancet published a study by Andrew Wakefield that linked the MMR vaccine to autism (Wakefield 1998). The resulting fallout led to a substantial and dangerous drop in the vaccination rate.  

In the decade and a half since Wakefield’s study, the results have never been replicated. Wakefield himself has been discredited and struck off the medical register. He is no longer allowed to practice medicine in the UK. However he has long since decamped to Texas where he continues to spread his anti-MMR message.

Despite the highly publicised nature of Wakefield’s fall, vaccination rates have remained close to or below herd immunity levels (NHS 2013). It has been argued that the UK press contributed to the distrust and fear surrounding the MMR vaccination (Fitzpatrick 2005).

For a number of months in 2013 a measles epidemic has raged in Swansea, South Wales. The children most affected were those of the “lost generation”. Children who were never vaccinated for fear they might end up autistic.

I analysed content relating to this outbreak in four UK broadsheets and one tabloid paper for the month of April 2013. I looked at the Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and the Mail. My intentions were to ascertain if each paper had a distinct editorial take on the epidemic, and if so, explore this further.

Method:

As this was a story spanning two decades, I needed to narrow the range of my analysis. To do this I took a high-level look at news coverage in the early days of the MMR crisis. To begin with I ran a search of UK Newspapers for the time period 1st February 1998 to 31st December 2001. (via Lexus-Nexus) with “MMR” and “Autism” as control words. 

Within that timeframe there were 453 articles containing these words in the papers specified 

I wanted to get an understanding of which papers covered the original MMR controversy and to what extent. Unsurprisingly, the Mail had the majority of the stories with 175 articles in total.  In second place was the Independent, with 107 stories. This formed the baseline for me to compare to current data.

When analysing newspapers from the month of April 2013 I wanted to see if there was a comparable level of coverage for each paper. I ran a data search was from the 1st to 30th April 2013 and looked at all articles across the five papers.

There were 75 articles across the five papers, the majority of which were news articles.
Analysis:

The 2013 measles crisis in the UK is an interesting one, as at its foundation its one the media helped to create. In this analysis I wanted to see if there was any acknowledgement of prior mistakes, and whether or not there was an attempt to be more responsible in reporting about the science behind vaccines.

The Times:

The Times has consistently been the most pro-MMR paper. The investigative journalist Brian Deere published his series of reports into Andrew Wakefield in the paper between 2004 and 2010 (Deer 2010). These investigations led to Wakefield being struck off the medical register.

Unsurprisingly, in April, The Times published the most articles on the measles outbreak (26.67%). All bar one of the articles were pro MMR. There was one letter in which it was unclear what the writer’s position on the vaccine was. In fact the letter writer was more concerned with laying blame on politicians and the NHS (Wood 2013).

17 of the 20 articles had science at the forefront of the story. Most listed the symptoms of measles, and the health implications. The headlines of the articles also maintained this message.

Samples include:

Measles is still a major threat, so don't ignore the value of the MMR jab

Surge in measles cases in wake of false MMR scare

Vaccination plea as measles outbreak continues unabated

My analysis showed that the paper had a strong pro-science, pro-medical editorial line.

There was one article which acknowledged that there was considerable pressure on parents at the end of the nineties to not vaccinate. That coupled with a growing distrust in the political establishment led to the reduced take-up of the vaccine (Thomson 2013).  

The Guardian:

Between 1998 and 2001, The Guardian published 54 articles on the MMR/Autism controversy (11% of the total articles published). In April, they published 16 articles (21%).  Of the 16, five were letters to the Editor.

I have to admit to being surprised at the Guardian’s output in April. While they maintained a strong pro-MMR slant on their articles, they also had a very clear agenda. Of the 11 remaining articles, five had science at the forefront. These articles focused on the outbreak, how it was spreading, and the uptake of the vaccine.

Of the remaining articles, one was an editorial on Autism Inc, Andrew Wakefield’s reality tv series (Hannaford 2013), and another was on media culpability (Greenslade 2013).

The article on media culpability seemed, upon closer inspection, to be an excuse to criticise rival newspapers.  

“Last week the Daily Mail reported that 2 million children risked catching measles as a result of the MMR scare. It is a scare that the paper knows all about, having been in the forefront of running a series of articles over the years that urged parents to beware of the multiple vaccination and its supposed links to autism.

“The Mail's headlines speak for themselves: "MMR killed my daughter"; "MMR fears gain support"; "New evidence 'shows MMR link to autism'"; "MMR safe? Baloney. This is one scandal that's getting worse". This is but a small proportion of the negative articles published by the paper.”

“There were plenty of anti-MMR stories in the Daily Express, the Sun, the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere, including regional papers, such as the South Wales Evening Post, which is based in Swansea, where the latest measles outbreak has occurred”

The Leftish lean in the Guardian asserted itself on the 30th April in an opinion piece by Aditya Chakrabortty which attempted to link the MMR controversy with Austerity politics.

“Still, whether MMR or austerity, the bottom line in both is that plausible science can make bad decisions seem sensible. When the science no longer seems implausible, the game is up. Wakefield was rumbled; slowly but surely the same is happening to the austerity-mongers.” (Chakrabortty 2013)

The Independent:

Between 1998 and 2001, The Independent published 107 articles on the MMR/Autism controversy (23% of the total articles published). In April, they published 14 articles (18%).  

In the middle of April (the 13th), the Independent did a full page on the measles epidemic. They had a number of articles on one page, one of which was a statement by Andrew Wakefield. The other articles on the page presented the editorial line, which was pro-MMR.

However, on the internet, no-one can see the editorial decisions as they play out in print. The three main articles were viewed independently from each other and it appeared, to a casual reader, that the Independent was giving a platform to Wakefield (The Independent 2013) (Wakefield, 'The government has tried to cover up putting price before children's health' 2013) (LAURANCE 2013).

The following week, the Editor for the paper responded to criticism about the April13th issue. In his response he noted that Wakefield’s statement had been viewed by many out of context saying, “that when you're presenting something on the printed page, the reader can absorb everything around it; on the web, they may only receive one link to the one piece and miss the counterbalancing parts.” (BLACKHURST 2013)

It was an interesting issue to occur. Before the April 13th paper went to print, Chris Blackhurst had thought he had the balance of opinion on the paper right, but within a day, it was clear, that the editorial line had gotten lost in translation.

It is a valid reminder that context is not always immediately available on the internet.

The Telegraph:

Between 1998 and 2001, The Telegraph published 40 articles on the MMR/Autism controversy (8% of the total articles published). In April, they published 17 articles (22.67%).  

The Telegraph concentrated their news stories on the facts of the outbreak in Wales. However they did have a few opinion pieces, in which an editorial bias might be seeping through.

In a piece by Cristina Odone on the 15th April she wrote:

“Andrew Wakefield, too, appealed to this smugness. The former doctor (he has been struck off the medical register) sold a powerful idea to mothers and fathers in cords and 4x4s. Of course, his claim that the MMR vaccine carried a high risk of autism proved utterly bogus. But that didn't matter: middle-class parents loved the message, even while being terrified of its implications. For it tapped into their paranoia about their precious children being at risk. Mums and dads who won't let their children climb trees lest they fall, or walk on coastal paths lest they be blown off into the sea, are not likely to expose them to a virus or bacterium, even a dead one.”

And in an article printed on the 27th April on the prospect of private schools being a “reservoir” for measles Laura Donnelly wrote:

“Prof Ashton said independent schools were likely to contain high numbers of middle-class parents who were "in thrall to" Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who was struck off after publishing the discredited research.”

In the Telegraph, it may be that Middle Class parents are really to blame for this epidemic.

The Mail:

Between 1998 and 2001 there were just over 450 articles written on the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. Nearly 40% of these articles were written by the Mail (between both its Daily and Sunday edition). In the period between the 1st of April and the 30th, 10% of the articles published were in the Mail.

The Mail has a dubious history with vaccines. In 2009 the Irish Daily Mail campaigned vigorously for the HPV vaccine to be made available to school girls in the state. At the same time, the UK Mail was campaigning for the exact opposite (Linehan 2009).

As a result of this history, I wasn’t surprised to note that the Mail had the fewest articles on the measles epidemic. In total they had 8 stories, six of which were updates on the outbreak in Wales. The other two were opinion pieces by Peter Hitchens, in which he argued that the Mail was not responsible for the low uptake of the MMR vaccine.

“THE BBC is making much of a measles outbreak in Swansea. The implication of much of its reporting is that those media who highlighted concerns about the MMR vaccine in the late Nineties are to blame. Not guilty. Many parents were genuinely worried, and did not find official reassurances convincing. Why should they, given the track record of Government? If the authorities had really wanted to avoid this, they should have authorised single measles jabs on the NHS.IS THE NHS our servant or our master? (HITCHENS 2013)”

“THE Left-wing media and their internet allies continue to make much of the outbreak of measles in Swansea.  This seems to be turning into an attack on free speech and on a free press. Particular rage is being directed against conservative newspapers which gave prominence to claims - since discredited - that the MMR vaccination was linked to autism. (Hitchens 2013)”

There is without doubt an editorial line at play here. The Mail has not accepted any responsibility for the initial health scare, and continues to deny culpability. This may also be why the coverage of the epidemic is the weakest of all the papers reviewed.

Conclusion:

The paper that impressed me the most was the Times, which remained consistently on message about the risks of measles and the benefits of getting vaccinated. Their opinion pieces focused on how best to communicate these facts to people.

The Mail fulfilled my expectations of it. I didn’t expect hard science, or indeed, acknowledgement of the part they played in the MMR controversy. However I had expected there to be more coverage of the outbreak, and by named journalists. Four of their eight articles were by “Daily Mail Reporter”.

The paper that surprised me the most with its editorial line was the Guardian. For a newspaper that portrays itself in a leftish-liberal manner, it seemed the most cynical in its use of the epidemic. 

In fact, despite the shortness of the period reviewed, it was noticeable how consistent and obvious the editorial line was across all the papers.  I had expected there to be very little difference in the presentation of the story from the broadsheets and while the science reporting was strong, the opinion pieces clearly reflected each paper’s bias.


Bibliography
 
 
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I'm not sure I'll be able to adequately sum up this year's CONvergence experience. 

I had, as usual, an epic time. And CONvergence remains, for me at least, the convention that beats all other conventions..

So.. Where to begin...

How about day 1.. 

Wednesday 3rd July:

We travelled from Dublin to JFK to Minneapolis. There was a small bit of misinformation at JFK which led to us almost not getting on the flight to Minneapolis, but me and my travelling companion managed to look so utterly jetlagged and distressed that we made it on to the flight.

Our contact on the other side, G, picked us up at the airport and deposited us at the hotel, where we checked in and picked up the awesomest badges ever (designed by Chris Jones). Then we had one drink and died from jet lag. 

Queue Day 2.: Thursday, 4th July:
PictureMe with coffee, pen and schedule on day 1.
We started early with Coffee, coffee and some more coffee. Then with a pen and a mini-schedule we planned out our day (I was with one of my very best friends, on her first trip to Minneapolis). 

Thankfully we had picked up our badges the previous day as over 5 thousand people showed up to register on Thursday. 5 THOUSAND PEOPLE... #SweetJeebus. The queue snaked around the hotel, but everyone kept their cool (despite the temperature) and after 5 hours, everyone was in. 

I guested on an early morning recording of the Geeks without God podcast. where we talked about that always funny topic - Abortion - mostly because that's what us Irish podcast ladies do these days :) I'll let people know when it's up online. 

Later on in the day, I spoke on two panels, British Slang 101 & There's More to British Comedy than Monty Python..

The British Slang panel was hilarious. The other people on the panel were Emma Newman (G.O.H. and all round awesome person), Cassandra Lidgerding, Jennifer Kelley & Walter Sullivan. We did spend a good 20 minutes talking about different slang words for vagina... (I got to tell people about Natalie Haynes' wedge shaped theory). I think that the audience enjoyed it.. and I was able to instruct people in the proper spelling and pronunciation of PADDY'S DAY.. And Samhain (prn: Sow-an).. Yay. 

The More to British Comedy than Monty Python was a weird panel. I'm not sure any of knew what it should be, but by the end of it we had a good discussion on the differences between British and US comedies. The general feeling is that due to less pressure from advertisers in the UK, British comedies can take more risks. That and also the creators of a series have more control over the writing.. There are very few "writing room" comedies in Britain. 

So those panels were done and me and my partner in crime, P, retired to our room to refresh ourselves before heading to the party rooms.. except we fell asleep instead.. Yeah.. we're those people. Oh well.  
PictureA family of Monsters..
Day 3, Friday 5th July:
This was my day off.. No panels for me.. We may have gone a bit mental... maybe..  

The first panel I went to was the YA literature we have to be reading. And I have a list of books somewhere in my case (I haven't fully unpacked yet) to plough through... After the panel I let the librarian in charge know about Ruth Frances Long's Treachery of Beautiful Things which will be out in Paper back next month.  

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Next up I learned about the evils of Popcorn and how it is used to control the minds of the populous. It's a CONspiracy was an hour-long education in how the New World Order controls EVERYTHING. I may never go to the cinema again. They're EVERYWHERE... 

After that I needed a drink.. so I absconded to a friend's room and drank all of their whiskey.. well maybe just some of their whiskey.. All I'm saying is there was whiskey.. which may have led to me drinking this. 
And then we went to see the Dregs.. the finest non-irish Irish band in the MidWest. 

Day 4, Saturday 6th July:
This was a fun day, I got to talk gods and geekdom early in the day.. and someone has even put that panel up online.. So if you want to listen to it.. go here: HERE
I was on another panel at 10pm, and as it was a proper serious panel about the Anti-Science of Vaccine deniers I avoided the bar and the party rooms.. First I dispatched P to watch Vilification Tennis (insult comedy at it's finest).
The panel was super interesting and everyone was way more qualified than me on there, still I think I made a few valid points. The Skepchicks were recording all of their panels and I am sure that it will be online at some point. Once I find out I will link to it.
And afterwards someone came up and told me he'd recognised my voice from our podcast (The Skeprechauns)... it was AWESOME... people listen to us :) I don't think I will ever get over hearing that. 
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Day 5, Sunday 7th July:
We started with breakfast (provided by the Con - including coffee which is not in shot). 
We missed Hungover with Geeks, largely because we were strangely, un hungover... and also because we were watching the tennis.. Did anyone else see the tennis. Wasn't it brilliant. My gods those two guys can play. Apologies for anyone who was in the rooms near ours.. we were very enthusiastic in our support of Murray. 

It took us about an hour to get our stuff out of the room and on to the elevators.. but reception gave us cookies at checkout. which was nice. 
Art Impossible was really cool.. The concept was very similar to Dr. Sketchy's.. And the art produced was brilliant. I particularly liked the pipe-cleaner pieces. 
I had to bail halfway through the panel tho as I was on another one about british comedy, which was a celebration of all the fun things that exist in Britain.. and Mrs Brown (I did not bring this up.. an audience member did). 

After which we collapsed in a heap somewhere until a kind soul picked us up and brought us to the home we were invading for our last two nights. 
On Monday we went to the MAUL OF AMERICA.. It was the MAUL.. but it did have a wall of Lego.. and an IHOP.. so there was that. 

And on Tuesday we flew home.
 
 
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Stop the AVN is a grassroots organisation in Australia set up to counter the anti-vaccination propaganda of the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN).

The AVN was set up in 1994 by Meryl Dorey in order to promote alternative views on vaccines. According to their website their aims are to medically-referenced information on vaccine safety and effectiveness, support parents who do not wish to vaccinate and lobby to ensure mandatory vaccines are not introduced (Australian Vaccination Network 2013).

In 1998 the Australian government initiated a measles control campaign in response to epidemics of the disease in Australia in the early nineties (World Health Organisation 2007). Prior to the campaign the AVN accused the government of bullying and encouraged their members to "Do anything and everything you can to ensure that this vaccination campaign does not take place" (Dorey 1998).

As the campaign to vaccinate children continued, so too did the AVN. In 2002 they campaigned against the Meningococcal vaccine (Dr Trevor Mudge 2002). In 2009 they tried to stop the distribution of both the swine flu and whooping cough vaccine (ABC NEWS 2009).

The latter campaign started following the death of four-month-old Dana McCaffery from pertussis in March 2009. Meryl Dorey disputed the cause of the child’s death, insisting on several occasions that Dana had not dies of whooping cough, and that her parents, and the medical profession were “turning her into a martyr because she supposedly died of whooping cough” (Lateline 2010) (McCaffery 2010).

In response to the anti-pertussis-vaccine campaign launched by the Australian vaccination network, a grassroots organisation called Stop-The-AVN was formed. The organisation is made up of 2,000 scientists, doctors, nurses, paramedics and laymen who believe that the anti-vaccination propaganda used by the AVN is a danger to public health (Stop the AVN 2010).

The aim of the group is to counter the claims of the AVN and to encourage event organisers and the Australian media to reconsider hosting Meryl Dorey. Utilising their highly qualified membership, the group spends a large amount of time counteracting and correcting misinformation spread by the AVN online. They have co-operated with media outlets, often pointing out instances of false balance or areas where the AVN may have mislead reporters. In addition, they use social media to organise protests or to highlight events that are uncritical of the AVN (McLeod 2011).

StopAVN ran a campaign against Dorey’s appearance at the Woodford Folk Festival in January 2012.  Dorey was billed as an expert speaking on Autism and Toxicity. StopAVN organised their members to contact the festival, the sponsors and media and express their disappointment that the AVN were being given a platform to spout misinformation on vaccines.  While Dorey still spoke at the festival, her talk was changed from a solo lecture to a debate with a senior immunologist (The Woodfordia Mail 2011). The StopAVN group also paid for a banner with the words “Vaccinations Saves Lives” to be flown over the festival for the two hours Dorey was scheduled to speak.

The Woodford Folk Festival was probably the most obvious of StopAVN’s campaigns. However in conjunction with this, the group make members available to the press, for interviews or debates. And over the last few years, the group have also been responsible for several legal challenges against the AVN.

In 2009, Ken McLeod (Australian Skeptics, and StopAVN) filed a complaint against the AVN with the New South Wales Health Care Complaints committee, alleging that the AVN made unsubstantiated healthcare claims (Hall 2009). The HCCC finished their investigation in July 2010 and found that the AVN “misleads readers by using reliable and peer-reviewed research, but quoting selectively from it, often in contradiction to the conclusions or findings of the studies themselves" (NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) 2010). The HCCC directed the Australian Vaccination Network to display a disclaimer on their site, which the AVN declined to do, pending an appeal.

While this was on-going, StopAVN also made other complaints against the AVN group, alerting copyright owners that their work may have been appropriated by the AVN and sold without permission (Benson 2010). A complaint was lodged with the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing alleging that the AVN had illegally raised funds between 2007 & 2009. After an investigation the OLGR found that there were breaches and revoked the AVN’s charitable status (McMillan 2010) (Dorey, Australian Vaccination Network 2010). In December 2012 the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading, after receiving complaints that the Australian Vaccination Network’s name was misleading, issued a formal order that they group change its name. They had until March 21st to lodge a new name with the department. They are contesting the name change requirement. (ABC News 2013) (Dorey, Government puts boot into the AVN, Democracy and the Truth 2012).

Throughout the last four and a half years the StopAVN campaign has pursued a many headed public relations campaign against the Australian Vaccination Network. In public, they have protested the uncritical inclusion of the AVN and Meryl Dorey on TV, Public Lectures and festivals. And in private they have investigated the network and where they found breaches of the law, made complaints against them. As a result the anti-vaccine movement is on the backfoot and facing legal challenges on all sides.

While conducting my review of the Stop AVN campaign, I realised that this particular fight was a battle between two PR machines. The Anti-Vaccination group had a good ten years start on the Pro-vaccination group, but StopAVN in the end, had more experts, both legal and medical willing to volunteer time and energy into their campaign.

It is interesting to note that the PR campaign associated with the traditional scientific project of NASA’s Rover was successful due to its adoption of modern social media, viral videos and gaming consoles, while this more fluid grassroots organisation was very effective using older methods of providing speakers and experts to news stations and papers.

What the two campaigns have in common is a willingness to connect and be available to the public. From looking at the two campaigns I believe that this is what made them successful.   

Bibliography


 
 
Without doubt the best known science-related public relations initiative of the last few years was NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars.

In recent years NASA has faced shrinking budgets, which in turn has led to a cessation of manned spaceflight within the US. Their focus has been on robotic missions to nearby planets, Messenger to Mercury, Juno to Jupiter and of course the three main Martian rover missions, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

Curiosity had an initial launch-date of September 2009 however, due to the late delivery of components, NASA delayed the launch (NASA 2011). This may have proved to be a boon in PR terms, as Curiosity was able to ride a zeitgeist of social media when it eventually landed in 2012.

The publicity campaign began properly in 2009 when NASA gave the public the opportunity to have their names etched into a silicon chip that would be sent to Mars (NASA n.d.). They also launched a competition inviting young people from across America to come up with a name for the Rover. This competition was conducted in partnership with Pixar, who provided WALL-e related prizes for the finalists (NASA 2009).

People have a tendency to connect with objects that have been humanised (or anthropomorphised). In linking it to WALL-e, NASA made Curiosity more than just a mechanical exploration device, and helped to capture the imagination of the public.  
Picture
Image ©NASA
Picture
Image ©Disney/Pixar
NASA allowed people follow the progress of curiosity. In 2008 they had set up a twitter account for the rover (@MarsCuriosity). While tweets from the account are written by people working on the MSL (Mars Science Lab) team, the point of view is from the rover. Followers have been able to connect with the robot and as a result feel more attached to the project. The NASA team let ordinary people into their world. Curiosity frequently answers questions from the public via the account.  

This was essential in bridging the gap between regular space enthusiasts and the general public. By opening up avenues of communication directly with the team the public, and in turn the news agencies, got more interested. 

In the run-up to launch-date NASA ramped up the access with live-broadcast briefings and Q&A sessions. Videos of Curiosity, its flight plan and landing mechanism were issued to news shows and web-based newspapers like the Huffington post (Stenovec 2011).  

The next stage of Curiosity’s life would be spent hurtling through space. The only major news during this stage was the course correction needed in early January. Once again @MarsCuriosity led the way in informing people about how this would be done and why it was needed. In fact, throughout the 9 month trip, the twitter account kept a running commentary of everything it was doing or seeing, from monitoring solar flares to being nominated for shorty awards (Shorty Awards 2013).

This constant stream of information meant that Curiosity never quite fully left the public’s consciousness. There are now over 1.3 million people following @MarsCuriosity (to compare,the other NASA account for Spirit and Opportunity, @MarsRovers, has 192k followers).

In June 2012, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (the unit behind the rovers) released a YouTube video entitled: Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror (NASA JPL 2012). In it the engineers involved with the project detailed the difficulties with a Mars landing and the very precise nature of getting Curiosity to the ground. Within a fortnight the YouTube video had racked up over half a million views and was cited in the New York Times (Chang 2012).

It was, in some ways, a work of genius. First NASA encouraged us to care about this machine; the voice of the twitter account is genuine and funny. The public were able to watch the launch and follow its journey through space. And now, in the final stages, NASA introduces danger into the mix. This little robot may burn up on entry.

To add to the anticipation of the entry sequence, mid-July, NASA released a game for the XBOX Kinect called ‘Mars Rover Landing’ allowing people to attempt their own landing (McGlaun 2012). The game was outside the comfort zone of NASA, as it was the first time they released anything for the console market.

The stage and mood were set. The rover was nearing Mars. And on the 6th of August at 6.25am, Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere and the seven minutes of terror started. Over a thousand people watched the descent in New York’s Times Square (Space.com 2012). Thousands watched the NASA feed from different countries around the world. More followed Curiosity’s dive on twitter.

The tweet that announced a safe landing “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL” was retweeted 70,635 times. 14,641 people favourited it.

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Image ©twitter
NASA’S aim with Curiosity’s PR was to increase knowledge of the rover, the work that NASA do outside of manned space flight and to show the people responsible for their budget that there was still an appetite for endeavours in space. While we cannot yet know if there will be an increase in money made available for NASA, we can say with some certainty that the public’s imagination is still captured by space, and by the possibilities of travel to another planet. 


Bibliography

 
 
So two weeks from tomorrow I get on a plane to Minneapolis. 

I'm heading to the twin cities for my most favourite of all the conventions (sorry Octocon) CONvergence. 

It's all out geekery with books, films, radio plays, science, skepticism and party rooms. 

I'm going to be on a number of panels, some of which are part of the SkepchickCon... So I am super excited. 

Here's my 'absolutely will be at as I am on the top table' schedule:

Thursday 4th July: 

5:00pm: British Slang 101 
                 I plan on taking over this panel and talking   
                 solely about Irish Slang.. it's FAR superior to  
                 British slang anyways :oP
7:00pm: There's more to British Comedy than Python
                 I mean, clearly there's more. I may 
                 crowdsource some ideas from twitter before 
                 the con, or leave a comment here listing your 
                 favourite British comedies.. the less said 
                 about Mrs Brown tho, the better.. 

Saturday 6th July:

12:30pm: The Gods of Geekdom
                   They mention the gods of comic books in the          
                   listing for this panel. I don't read comics, but I 
                   do read all of the fantasy.. the one question 
                   I'll be raising is how can Brandon Sanderson 
                   still be Mormon?
10:00pm: The British Anti-Science Invasion
                  I'll mostly be talking vaccines here. It's a 
                  pretty good thing that all my masters 
                  assignments revolved around vaccines.. I will 
                  be putting all of that research to good use in 
                  this panel. It'll be infinitely better than  
                  #Vilten.. honest

Sunday 7th July:

3:30pm: Lesser known British Comedy
                I think I'm going to stick with things not 
                traditionally looked on as comedy here.. I may 
                even stray into podcast territory. 

I'm going through the rest of the program atm and trying to figure out how to split myself into 5 or get one of them Time-Turner thingamajigs.. but once I do figure out what I absolutely cannot miss I'll update my SCHED (It's a thing). 

I am totally looking forward to #CVG2013.. 

It's gonna be LEGEN - (wait for it) - DARY! Legendary. 

:) 

 
 
Picture
Mae & Nick from The Demon Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan
I've been doodling on my computer again (gotta get use out of the Adobe subscription).. I started out by just drawing random girl.. 
but after a break away from the computer to watch Man of Steel (review and thoughts on that to follow), I came back and the picture morphed from one random girl to Nick & Mae. 

Please excuse the hands.. I am utterly rubbish at drawing them.. I am working on it..
But it is a work in progress. 

Oh.. and if you haven't read The Demon's Lexicon you totally should. Sarah will rip out your heart and trample on it.. but you'll thank her for it.